Napoleon Bonaparte was, seemingly arbitrarily, chosen by the Directory for the position of general of the French Army of Italy. This proved to be a good decision by the Directory, but they had no way of knowing that Napoleon would perform so well. There were generals in Italy with a bigger and better resume than Napoleon at the time, namely Masséna and Augereau. What factors caused the Directory to appoint Napoleon to command the campaign in Italy, rather than someone with a better claim to command? Expanding the question, if the Directory was so confident in Napoleon, why didn't they assign him to one of the two armies along the Rhine?

  • 1
    I'll go see if there's anything really to this, but the story the late great Colin McEvedy told was that the committe he was in kept sending very complex battle plans to the generals on the Italian front, and one of the generals wrote back "This is rediculous. Let the man who wrote this crazy plan come carry it out!", so Napolean got sent.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 13:31

2 Answers 2



  • Napoleon Bonaparte was the protégé of Paul Barras, the strongest man of the time, member of the Directoire, who favored his military career and probably monitored his matrimonial plans (Josephine de Beauharnais was Barras' mistress when he introduced her to Bonaparte). Possible bargains between the two men in both fields have been the subject of speculations by historians.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte was already, thanks to Barras, Commander-in-Chief of French Interior Army, leading more than 5.000 troops in and around Paris. The Convention had gladly used this force for repressing the royalist Vendémiaire insurrection in October 1795, but leaving it under a general as ambitious as Bonaparte would be uncomfortable for the Directoire, so it felt safer to send him to a theater far from the capital and replace him with general Hatry, obedient and devoid of political ambition. The Coup of 18 Brumaire in 1799 will confirm that this prudence wasn't totally uncalled for...



  1. his new wife, Josephine Beauharnais, had connections; and

  2. only Napoleon was interested in such a dismal and unsupported command.

When Napoleon arrived the Army of Italy was unfed, unpaid, largely unshod, outnumbered, and severely mutinous. It wasn't that the Directory was so confident in Napoleon's abilities - they were desperate, and willing to gamble on an unknown in this minor and ignored theater.

  • 2
    Technically, Joséphine wasn't Napoleon's wife yet when he was appointed "commandant en chef" March 2d, 1796 : they got married one week later, the 9th, just before his departure for Italy.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 8:16
  • 2
    While 2 seems close to the truth, it certainly cannot be fully correct. There were gazillions of newly promoted young ambitious men who made general at the time, usually skipping lots of ranks. I am quite certain there were other takers among the second or third tier of the Republic's military men on the make. Commented May 16, 2023 at 7:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.